India since the beginning of our trip was to be a milestone of our world tour. On the one hand, because we stayed there a little more than a month which makes it the second country where we stayed the longest after Australia. On the other hand, because we are going to see our friends Rajat and Payal again, and after having spent New Year together, nothing better than to visit them at home. It was also a turning point between Asia and Africa, after 4 months on the roads of South East Asia, and before leaving in very different African countries. But above all, it was an important step, for its culture, its traditions, its food, its landscapes, and its population so different from what we had seen so far and that we can not really find elsewhere, even in Sri Lanka we have just left. We were looking forward to it. We leave Colombo airport to land in Chennai formerly known as Madras.
CHENNAI / Madras
Small town of 9 millions of inhabitants, capital of the state of Tamil Nadu, it is one of the main megalopolis of the country and it also has a population density almost record in India: 18000 inhabitants to km2! We were a little afraid of being drowned in this crowd. We will spend one night but enjoy the day to take a tour of the city and major rickshaw monuments. All this thanks to the Uber application which allows to know the real prices and not to be scammed. We visit 2 Hindu temples, the lighthouse, Fort St. George but also the Cathedral. Splendid, but the environment is still stuffy. The humidity, the heat, the crowd, the traffic, as well as the nauseating odors of sewers remind us that it is a very very big city of India. We are happy to leave for a smaller city the same evening.
It is by a bus late in the evening that we arrive in Pondicherry. After 3h of bottling to get out of Chennai and 2h of highway, we reach a city on a human scale, only 300 000 inhabitants! The city is well known for its French colonial heritage! We find this influence in the white city through many old buildings, churches, streets with French names. We walk on foot under a crushing heat and really wet! At the end of the day, the seaside promenade fills up gradually! Locals and tourists looking for a little freshness!Gallery not found!
For our second day, we go to Auroville. It's a unique concept in the world! It is a city created by Mira Alfassa, (The Mother) with Sri Aurobindo, Indian philosopher in the 70 years. Auroville is a place where a community of men and women is established to live in peace and harmony without politics, without religion and regardless of nationality. At the base the place chosen by the Mother was a desert and today Auroville is flourishing. There are more 50 nationalities that coexist. You can visit a part of Auroville including the gardens where the Matrimandir is located, which is the place of Aurovillian meditation. We meet later in our trip a French volunteer Auroville who explained a little operation from inside. Interesting! If you want to know more about Auroville, click here.
Thekkhadi / Kumily
We were looking forward to these 3-4 days in India on the southeast coast to reach the mountains and more bearable temperatures! We leave Pondicherry at 22h and arrive the next morning at 6h! First experience in the Indian Sleeper bus, and it was a good surprise. A real queen size bed and a rather pleasant ride. We have breakfast and in the afternoon we go on safari with Aneesh, a great local guide met by the roadside. We go by jeep into the mountains to see the tea plantations, as well as the local wildlife: so-called 2 elephants, but we were so far away that it took us 5 minutes to find them, Langur monkeys, and squirrels giants specific to this region.
The next morning we will take a boat ride on Lake Periyar. It's nice and we can see a wild elephant, bison, sea lions, kingfishers, a remarkable wildlife in a preserved landscape. In the afternoon, we go hiking with a guide of the national park for do the green walk. We walked for 3-4h in the middle of the National Park and got very close to wild bisons in a meadow, very impressive. On the way back, we meet a family of 6 wild elephants, very close to the nearby tribal village. We were stuck watching them eating for 15 minutes!
At this point of the trip, we hesitated between returning to the plains furnace or staying cool in the mountains. The choice was quickly made knowing that we still had 1 months in India, then we heard about Munnar, well known for his tea plantations. We go there in a somewhat chaotic way. First 3h from local bus to reach Poopara, then from there another bus had to pass to get to Munnar, but after 45 min waiting, we jump in a Mahindra (Jeep) direction Munnar to 1h from there. Only, we were 15 in the car, as well as it was hot, and that the drivers of the car had a little trouble driving: one dealing with the steering wheel, the other pedals and speeds, knowing that the lever was between my legs! Arriving at Munnar, it's a little surprise, it's very touristy and very developed compared to the small village of Kumily. We come to see the main sights and to hike 18 km off the beaten track, with a guide, and through several tea plantations. Magnificent !
Kochi / Cochin
As we had preferred the mountains, we had only one day to go to Kochi. As much to say to you that one made a very fast but pleasant visit of Fort Cochin and its promenade of waterfront. We also made a tour in the famous "Backwaters". The "Backwaters" are a network of naturally and artificially interconnected canals and lakes that cover 200 square km, on which small villages have been built. The ride is done in traditional boat and is very pleasant.
Initially we planned to explore the area but we found a small beachfront bungalow in Palolem, in the south of the state of Goa, and we felt so good that we did not end up not do much. We took advantage of 4 days to relax and sunbathe on the beautiful beach with a few beers.A total disconnection, and we have taken very few photos!
Pune and Mahabaleshwar Canyon
We arrive in Pune at 3h in the morning (and yes there is a lot of lowcost night flight in India). Pune is not a tourist city but we are here to spend time with our friends Rajat and Payal, celebrate Holi and take a trip to the nearby mountains.
After a sleepless night of reunion, we are ready to celebrate Holi. It is a Hindu festival also called the festival of colors.
The principle is simple, just throw powders of different colors everywhere, on people we know but it also works for strangers, then we must wet all that, then dry. And then we start again ... to say that the result is impressive. It also takes 2 good shower hours to remove 80% of the colors, the rest will leave in the next week.
After a good nap, a good restaurant and a good night, we all leave together for Mahabaleswar. The city is located on the ridge of the mountains forming a large canyon and somewhat reminiscent of Utah or Arizona. The views are splendid. At 40 min road from the village, we visit Fort Pratapgad with panoramic views. It is a pleasant and undeveloped region for foreign tourism: little or nothing is written in English, employees of hotels and tourist attractions do not speak English either. Fortunately we are with our guides / translators / friends !!! We leave Pune after 5days and the promise to meet again. We fly again overnight to Amritsar in northwestern India.
Amritsar, the Golden Temple and the Indo-Pakistan border
The Golden Temple was one of the musts of our world tour. We had heard about it from Rajat and Payal and we had inquired about the place. It is the highest place of pilgrimage of the Sikh religion. ( what is Sikhism?. You may have already seen Indians with turbans and long beards, who are not Maharaja). The place is just magical, made of white marble with a central islet entirely made of gold, Sikh singings prayers are broadcast continuously on the speakers of the complex. We went to walk around the temple many times during days and nights, and the magic operate every time. Generosity being a pillar among Sikhs religion, volunteers serve free meals to believers and visitors at any time of day or night. Near 100 000 meals are served here every day!
We are also witnessing the patriotic parade that takes place every evening when the flags come down at the Waggah border post. It is an event which the Indians attend with great pleasure. First of all, there are Indian women coming to the parade who have the opportunity to parade with the flag, then the children sing and dance to sounds of Indian music such as Jai Ho (in the film Slumdog Millionaire). It must be admitted that this is the only song we knew! Then it's the turn of some military men and women who also parade with the Indian flag. Then comes the guards at the border post. They are extremely tall on the Indian side as well as on the Pakistani side. They parade by raising their legs as high as possible and the movements are synchronous with the Pakistani guards. Finally comes the descent of the flags, and the ultimate goal is to be the last to completely down the flag. A very beautiful moment!
Delhi and Agra
Back in an Indian megalopolis under a dry heat this time. We explore Old Delhi and it's an experience in itself. It's hard to describe! Shops everywhere, narrow streets, constant traffic, smelly odors mixed with frying and spices ... Wow! We visit the main points of interest including the metro, hyper modern and inexpensive to move very easily. Here's what we visited: the Jama Masjid Mosque, the Qutub Minar, the Lotus Temple and the Red Fort, all of a remarkable history or architecture. Delhi is not really one of the best times in India, but a hell of a lot!
Agra direction for a quick day tour of one of the 7 wonders of the world: the Taj Mahal. Emma was subjugated. The size of the building is not so spectacular, but the fact that it is all white marble, makes it resplendent especially when the sun shows its nose. In the wake, we also visit the fort of Agra which is worth seeing. Thomas having already made these 2 visits 4 years ago, nothing new, but it is really 2 unavoidable during a visit to India.
The site of the Taj Mahal is magnificent despite a recent price increase: 1330 rupees is more than 15 € per person, especially since there is no real explanation on the history, construction and maintenance of the monument.
Rajasthan: Udaipur, Jodhpur and Jaipur
From Agra, we take a night bus to Udaipur, 13 bus hours! We arrive at dawn and enjoy a beautiful sunrise on the roofs of the city with some monkeys warming up after a relatively cool night. It does not last long, we had during our visit of Rajasthan temperatures between 40-45 during the day!
Of the three cities we visited, we preferred Udaipur, the white city! The historic center with its palace is so peaceful, it feels like a small village. It is also called the Venice of the East, because there are 2 lakes and some canals. The story of the local Maharaja: Arvind Singh Mewar is taught to you when you visit City Palace very informative, all in a royal setting!
A bus and 5h drive later and here we are in Jodhpur, the blue city, much larger, 1 million inhabitants. Its superb fortress overlooking the city is accessible from the old town on foot, an ascent of 20 min under 43 degrees and you are there, it's quiet! With its main 3 monuments (the Mehrangarh Fort, Jaswant Thada, Umaid Bhawan Palace), the city of Jodhpur is very attractive compared to Udaipur tourism. We managed to visit the 3 sites, but each time happy to return to the hotel room with air conditioning!
We will end our journey in India with 2 days in Jaipur, the pink city (well at least orange now) Arriving by train late the first day, we plan a tour in Tuktuk the next day to see the musts do of the city and its surroundings. We will pass by the Palace of the Winds and its incredible facade of orange windows, then we will visit Fort Amber, which is a fort but also a palace. Like those previously visited it's really beautiful! The city does not please us more than that but we do not regret this last step!
The next morning, we headed to Mumbai-Bombay and stayed near the airport , because early morning the day after he had a flight to our next destination: The Seychelles.
Balance sheet of India
- The diversity of landscapes, from north to south, from the mountains to the plains, the beaches, the arid deserts of Rajasthan, ... simply incredible.
- Holi, a tradition to celebrate if you are in India!
- The food ! This is one of the only countries where we have hardly eaten Western food. Thomas almost rocked vegetarian!
- Kerala and Rajasthan, two must-see places in India!
- The big metro cities (megalopolis) which is the image that many people (including us) have of India: overpopulated and dirty with very often extreme poverty visible.
- The transportation which is a little chaotic, with a never ending traffic day and night, however Uber, Ola, RedBus and others website/app make it easier to organize.
- In the continuity of Sri Lanka, the alcohol is more or less easily according to the regions and the states or even according to the districts. Goa and Maharashtra (Pune / Mumbai) being more open than the rest to our taste! We mainly drank beer: Kingfisher, Bira.
With a budget 2320 € for 33 days, 32 € per day and per person, we managed to respect the budget by spending only 2298 €. The local catering (and we loved it) costs little, sometimes less than 1 € for a whole meal, however when you want Western cuisine, it climbs quickly! We even pay ourselves the luxury of going to a dentist to do a 40 € descaling for 2 people, included in the total at 2298 €! The price of the E-Visa was also a good surprise, because originally planned at 104 € per person, we only paid 80 $ or about 70 € per person!